The Art of Critical Decision Making

Course No. 5932
Professor Michael A. Roberto, D.B.A.
Bryant University
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103 Reviews
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Course No. 5932
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Course Overview

Whether simple or complex, private or public, decisions are an essential part of your life. Not only do decisions affect your own life for good or ill, they can also affect the lives of your friends, your family, and your community. Indeed, the ability to make wise, educated decisions is essential to living a successful and fulfilled life.

  • When is the right time for your company to change its business model?
  • Is moving across the country for a new job the best option for you and your family?
  • At what point do you roll out a new product or service currently being tested?
  • Should you sell your house now, or wait until the housing market improves?

But making a good decision and avoiding a horrible one is not a chance act. It's a skill—one that can be learned, honed, and perfected. Mastering the art of critical decision making is the key to improving your life at home, at work, or in your community. When you understand the necessary components of a smart decision, you can examine mistakes you might have made in the past and sidestep potential mistakes in the future. And when you know the underlying psychological, social, and emotional components that influence decision making—whether they are your own decisions or the decisions of others—you can make sounder choices that produce better results.

Now you can learn to approach the critical decisions in your life with a more seasoned, educated eye with The Art of Critical Decision Making, a fascinating 24-lecture course that explores how individuals, groups, and organizations make effective decisions and offers you tips and techniques to enhance the effectiveness of your own decision making. Taught by award-winning Professor Michael A. Roberto of Bryant University—a scholar of leadership, managerial decision making, and business strategy—this dynamic course is an engaging and practical guide to one of the most fundamental activities in your life.

Three Levels of Decision Making

The heart of this accessible course is a thorough examination of decision making at three key levels:

The individual level: Studying how individuals make decisions reveals a wealth of insights into how—and why—they make particular choices. Most individuals do not examine every possible alternative but instead draw on experience and rules of thumb. Most of us, it turns out, are susceptible to what psychologists call cognitive biases: decision traps that can cause us to make certain systematic mistakes when making choices. You also learn how intuition, surprisingly, is more than just a gut instinct and represents instead a powerful pattern recognition capability.

The group level: Because you don't always make choices on your own, it's important to understand decision making at the level of group or team. Here, you try to answer the question of whether groups are "smarter" and more capable of making critical decisions than individuals. The lectures show you problems that typically arise in group decision-making scenarios, including groupthink (the notorious tendency for groups to be pressured into conforming to a particular view) and a lack of synergy between team members. You also learn how groups can overcome these and other problems to make better decisions.

The organizational level: Studying decision making on the organizational level requires you to grasp how the structure, systems, and culture of a particular organization shape the behavior of its individual teams and members. Professor Roberto shows you how history's wrong decisions usually cannot be attributed to one wrong decision or poor leader. He also demonstrates how some organizations have encouraged and reliably performed vigilant decision making in the face of risky scenarios.

The Key to Effective Decision Making

The Art of Critical Decision Making reveals that bad decisions are usually made because of a poorly thought-out decision-making process. If decision makers put more emphasis on how to make a decision, ensure that they remove personal biases, collect information beforehand, glean the diverse perspectives of others, and perform a number of other constructive activities, they can vastly improve the strength and success of the process.

Professor Roberto employs the case method used by America's most prestigious business schools, including Harvard University. Designed to expose students to a breadth and depth of real-world examples and scenarios, the case method allows you to compare and contrast various situations as a way to recognize patterns. In doing so, you refine your ability to distinguish between smart and poor decision making.

Among the many compelling case studies you engage in throughout the course are these:

  • IDEO's appropriate use of expertise: You study the decision-making practices of this California-based design consultancy. One of the key lessons you learn is that IDEO uses experts and their knowledge in an appropriate manner—recognizing that sometimes expertise as defined by past successes is not always ideal in a quickly changing environment.
  • Improving patient care in hospitals: Professor Roberto's independent study of hospital staff demonstrated how experienced nurses can positively influence patient care through intuition. By relying on an understanding of warning signs and using the Socratic method of asking questions, veteran nurses were able to prevent patients from experiencing life-threatening problems and reduced the rates for heart attacks and mortality.
  • General Motors' financial woes: In 1972, General Motors was the nation's most profitable company, but in late 2008 the carmaker's profitability sank drastically. According to Professor Roberto, the management team's assumptions during the 1970s—including the persistence of energy sources and the internal promotion of managers—were proved false in the near and long term and only perpetuated outdated ways of thinking in the company.

Compelling historical and contemporary examples provide a captivating window through which to see the process of decision making at work. In taking key principles that great scholars and leaders have studied from history, business, and the modern world, Professor Roberto helps you understand exactly how the successful and unsuccessful decisions involved in these and other events are relevant to your own life.

Learn to Make Smarter Decisions

Whether you're the head of a Fortune 500 company, a government agency, or an everyday household, you constantly make decisions important to you and those immediately around you. The Art of Critical Decision Making offers you a toolbox of practical knowledge and skills that you can apply to various decisions—whether large or small—in your everyday life and work.

Professor Roberto's lively lectures are packed with useful anecdotes, tools, and advice designed to improve your own ability to make informed decisions. Among the many insights you gain from these lectures are that

  • a large part of making a good decision is not just solving a problem but accurately defining it;
  • framing a decision in terms of what may be lost usually causes us to take greater risks than if a problem is framed in terms of potential gains; and
  • hidden problems, not visible ones, are the true enemies of effective critical decision making.

Become a Better Critical Thinker

While a thorough exploration of decision making can be a complex endeavor, it takes a professor as knowledgeable and comprehensible as Professor Roberto to expose just how easy to grasp this science is. Warm, engaging, and vibrant, Professor Roberto possesses a passion for his field that is undeniably contagious.

You quickly discover why this former professor at Harvard Business School and former visiting associate professor at New York University's Stern School of Business has won numerous coveted teaching awards. These include Bryant University's Outstanding M.B.A. Teaching Award and, on two occasions, Harvard University's Allyn A. Young Prize for Teaching Economics.

Professor Roberto has also consulted at and taught in the leadership development programs of a number of America's most prestigious firms, including Apple, Morgan Stanley, Coca-Cola, and Walmart. This breadth of real-world experience shines through in each one of these 24 captivating lectures, as concepts and theories that might seem complex and confusing are instead made practical and accessible to everyone.

As you explore the intriguing process of making a good decision, you strengthen your grip on individual theories of decision making and the situations—both well known and relatively obscure—that illustrate them.

Most important, by the end of The Art of Critical Decision Making, you'll become a better critical thinker. You'll possess a stronger ability to learn from your mistakes, be able to approach and weigh individual choices more effectively, and make smarter decisions.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Making High-Stakes Decisions
    Examine the myth that bad decisions are most often made by bad leaders. Professor Roberto uses the examples of the Challenger disaster, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Daimler's acquisition of Chrysler to uncover why good leaders can make bad decisions if the decision-making process they use is flawed. x
  • 2
    Cognitive Biases
    Using the story of the tragedies on Mount Everest in 1996, Professor Roberto introduces you to three cognitive biases that play a role in bad decision making: sunk-cost effect, overconfidence bias, and recency effect. x
  • 3
    Avoiding Decision-Making Traps
    Explore more decision-making traps you can fall into if you're not aware of them, such as confirmatory bias, anchoring bias, attribution error, illusory correlation, hindsight bias, and egocentrism. Darwin avoided confirmatory bias by keeping a separate record of observations that contradicted his theory of evolution. x
  • 4
    Framing—Risk or Opportunity?
    The way you or others frame a problem or decision can have a significant impact on the choices you make. Understand why framing a decision in terms of what you have to lose causes you to take more risks. x
  • 5
    Intuition—Recognizing Patterns
    Discover how to use intuition as a powerful tool in decision making when combined with rational analysis and acknowledge the cognitive processes that are part of our intuition. Professor Roberto recounts case studies from firefighting, health care, and the video game industry to explain the potential and pitfalls of intuition. x
  • 6
    Reasoning by Analogy
    Learn how the Korean War differed from the threat of Adolf Hitler. Professor Roberto explains reasoning by analogy and how you can use analogies to make sense of a complex problem. At the same time, we must avoid the common tendency to overstate the similarities of one situation to another and overlook key differences. x
  • 7
    Making Sense of Ambiguous Situations
    We might like to think that we carefully examine our choices before we make a decision. However, we often do the reverse—make a decision and then figure out why, and base future decisions on how we made sense of other decisions. This process, called sense-making by Karl Weick, constantly influences our behavior. x
  • 8
    The Wisdom of Crowds?
    This lecture includes examples from game shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and from the business world that demonstrate the usefulness of decision making by groups and the potential problems if group members are not fully engaged. x
  • 9
    Groupthink—Thinking or Conforming?
    Discover why even diverse groups can make bad decisions if members are not able to express divergent opinions. This lecture focuses on how groupthink led to the Bay of Pigs invasion. x
  • 10
    Deciding How to Decide
    After the Bay of Pigs failure, President Kennedy and his advisors reflected on their mistakes and created a new process for group discussion and decision making to prevent future groupthink and promote diverse perspectives. Here, Professor Roberto introduces the concept of developing a decision-making process. x
  • 11
    Stimulating Conflict and Debate
    Learn how constructive conflict can lead to new insights and stronger decisions. Discover four methods to stimulate useful debate: role plays, mental simulation techniques, creating a point-counterpoint dynamic, and applying diverse conceptual models and frameworks. x
  • 12
    Keeping Conflict Constructive
    Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for conflict to become unproductive. Understand how to look for and eliminate dysfunctional conflict to cultivate effective teams. This lecture includes cases on Sid Caesar's comedy writing team, health care, and the nonprofit sector. x
  • 13
    Creativity and Brainstorming
    IDEO is one of the world's leading product design firms, expert in developing creative and innovative products for many industries. What makes their process so effective? To help you understand their formula at work, Professor Roberto describes an experiment in which IDEO staff worked to design a new product in just one week. x
  • 14
    The Curious Inability to Decide
    Often as individuals or in groups we become paralyzed by indecision—unable to commit to one path or another. This lecture examines three modes of indecision in groups: "the culture of yes, the culture of no, and the culture of maybe." x
  • 15
    Procedural Justice
    Using case studies about Daimler Chrysler and an aerospace and defense firm, Professor Roberto explains the challenge of building consensus among team members once a decision has been made so everyone will work together to implement it. x
  • 16
    Achieving Closure through Small Wins
    To move forward through the brainstorming and decision-making processes, groups must find intermediate moments of agreement that Karl Weick calls "small wins." This lecture looks at how teams achieve closure through small wins, using cases about D-Day, Social Security, and the CEO of Corning. x
  • 17
    Normal Accident Theory
    Discover how organizational culture and structure affect decision making by individuals and groups. Learn about the Three Mile Island accident to understand what went wrong in that system, and understand how catastrophes more often stem from a domino chain of bad decisions rather than one wrong choice. x
  • 18
    Normalizing Deviance
    The tragic explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was likely the result of a flawed culture at NASA. The repeated and increased tolerance of questionable data and decisions ultimately led to a large-scale failure. How can leaders reform such cultures? x
  • 19
    Allison's Model—Three Lenses
    Learn Graham Allison's approach to examine decision making through three lenses. Use Allison's model to explore the Cuban Missile Crisis from the individual and cognitive perspective, the group dynamics view, and the vantage point of organizational politics and bargaining. x
  • 20
    Practical Drift
    Uncover why organizations make decisions that contradict their own rules and regulations. The concept of practical drift explains this phenomenon, as you see by studying a military friendly-fire case from 1994. x
  • 21
    Ambiguous Threats and the Recovery Window
    When a threat is ambiguous, organizations are likely to minimize the possible risks. Look again at NASA but this time at the Columbia space shuttle accident, 17 years after the Challenger explosion, to understand how conditions changed or stayed the same in that culture. x
  • 22
    Connecting the Dots
    Often in large organizations, no one individual can see or understand all the elements at the same time. Great organizations integrate various pieces to see the big picture. Discover how failure to connect the dots led to an inability to recognize the extent of the threat of a terrorist attack on American soil and therefore a lack of appropriate action before September 11. x
  • 23
    Seeking Out Problems
    Explore how complex, high-risk organizations succeed by focusing on the possibility of failure. Leaders at these organizations proactively look for problems rather than ignore red flags. Also, learn how Toyota's application of these principles has contributed to its success. x
  • 24
    Asking the Right Questions
    Examine the trend of leaders moving from making decisions themselves to focusing on how decisions are made by everyone in their organizations. Smart leaders, as you discover, ask the right questions to glean the collective wisdom of their colleagues and staffs. x

Lecture Titles

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  • 128-page printed course guidebook
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  • 128-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Michael A. Roberto

About Your Professor

Michael A. Roberto, D.B.A.
Bryant University
Dr. Michael A. Roberto teaches leadership, managerial decision making, and business strategy as the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. He joined the faculty at Bryant University after teaching at Harvard Business School for six years. Previously, Professor Roberto was a Visiting Associate Professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. Professor Roberto earned an...
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Reviews

The Art of Critical Decision Making is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 103.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Critical Decision Making--Too Long! This course took me back to the Sloan School of Mangement using the case-method to support the lectures. In my opinion, the couse was repetitive and redundant with the same cases--Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Discovery Explosion--used to exhaustion. I found Dr. Roberto to be self-serving in his presentations--often referring to his work with colleagues at the Harvard Business School. From his discussions, one would think he was the seminal thinker. However, the bibliography does not support the magnitude of his contributions. Dr. Roberto did reference Graham Allison, author of The Essence of Decision. This is a seminal work on the decision process used by the Kennedy administration during the Cuban missile crisis. Further, I was distracted by the quality of the audio. There were frequent "skips and lapses" in the CD version--probably related to editing the lectures. Despite my somewhat harsh comments, I recommend this course to others. It codifies the decision-making process in the areas of individual thinking, group thinking and institutional thinking. I highly recommend it for individuals at middle-management who aspire to senior executive positions. The ideas in the course can help the individual avoid pitfalls in making the transistion, and provide a process framwork for engaging others in the organization.
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good Investment Professor Roberto is slow in some lectures, but, overall he gives you a solid foundation. The book could have more of the information presented in the video. This series is worth the investment for anyone at any age. I did use the back of book credits to gain further understanding of the Critical Thinking process.
Date published: 2011-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another winner I find some courses are simply common sense explained a different way. While that is useful, it isn't necessarily valuable. I found this course valuable and recommend it to anyone who contends with complex issues and complicated decisions. As a previous listener/viewer mentioned, the material is a bit repetitive and as such could have been shortened by a couple of lessons. Aside from that, the content and delivery is very good and the concepts of decision making are covered off in great detail. I found myself immediately using some of the concepts, descriptions, and definitions in my job to avoid pitfalls and build towards resolutions.
Date published: 2011-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Applicable in different fields Although the context of critical thinking is for business, it is also applicable to different fields. As a medical educator, I was able to use the principles presented on this DVD to help my students think critically in healthcare. For instance I love the part about combining intuition and analytical reasoning. Many students in different fields master only textbook knowledge coming out of various schools. But to excel one must be able to comprehend and apply knowledge in context. This course absolutely prepares students for that level of functioning! The presenter is excellent and dynamic! This is an astoundingly magnificent course!!!
Date published: 2011-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course on Decision Making The Art of Critical Decision Making was an outstanding course that you can apply not only in your professional work but you can adapt it to your personnal decision making process within your family. Professor Roberto was an enjoyable instructor to listen to and he had genuine passion for the subject. His historical examples of leaders are insightful and gives the student a memorable tie to the decision making concept being explained. In particular the growth of JFK in his decision making ability from critical errors made in his Bay of Pig invasion decision to his growth in how he and his leadership changed in the chapter on Deciding How to Decide and his focus on the decision making process to successfully navigate the subsequent Cuban Missle Crisis. Other essays and examples from the Challenger disaster to the Mount Everest expedition tragedy all provide lessons in pattern recognition and what to be aware of in group dynamics to the development of the leader and what questions need to be asked to get to the right decision point. This course provides a great lense from which you can examine past decisions at your company for lessons learned, as well as, forward thinking in decisions yet to be made.
Date published: 2011-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content, a bit too slow and repetitive If you work in a group or organizational setting (whether in a position of authority or not), and don't have formal business training, you should get a lot of out of this course. The terms Prof. Roberto describes are commonly bandied about (sunk-cost effect, groupthink), but rarely explained outside of business school. To that end, I really enjoyed the content of this course, and found it to be as comprehensive an approach to analyzing decisions (and problems arising from bad decisions) as I could have hoped for. The only downside is that Prof. Roberto can move things along too slowly through a lot of the lectures, with a lot of repetition. This course probably could have been taught in 12-18 faster-moving lectures, rather than 24. Nevertheless, an easy one to recommend!
Date published: 2011-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, Great Course! I have taken and enjoyed many courses here, but this one was most enlightening and practical of them all. It gives great advice, summarizes excellently some recent findings and is something that I would recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2011-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful if you haven't read management stuff I've never taken a management course or read a book about the latest management fad. So I got quite a bit out of this course because it was my first exposure to many of the ideas, and they were new and fresh to me. Dr Roberto used several in-depth case studies such as the NASA Challenger accident, Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, D-Day preparation, and many others to illustrate his points. I found that the principles in the course were relevant to my everyday work -- no magic bullets but some helpful pointers. I can see that if a person has read several management technique books, then this course may sound like a re-hash, but it was enjoyable for me as a first-timer.
Date published: 2011-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Decisions Improved Professor Roberto is a very enthusiastic lecturer! He paces and gestures during his lecture and really commands your attention. The course itself is very well put together with case studies from history, that are important to learn in their own right, analyzed through the lenses of decision science. Roberto covers all the major points of decision science in an engaging and memorable way. The course offers many prescriptive recommendations on topics such as: how to avoid biases and groupthink, how to create a decision making process and encourage honest discussion and necessary conflict as well as how to look at decisions from individual, group and organizational points of view. Applying the techniques in this course would definitely improve one’s decisions and decision making processes. Beyond that, this course gives one the tools to examine the decisions of others and provide rational guidance and constructive criticism.
Date published: 2011-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EVERYONE should know this stuff I have watched over 50 Teaching Company DVDs and most have been from the Science & Math section. I gave a catalog to a friend (I am always trying to get other people interested in learning) and told him I could loan him any courses that I already have. He chose this one and I did not have it. I read the description and decided it could be good. I bought it and just finished watching it. I am so glad I did. The information in this course is totally brilliant. If you watch this course and don't think you learned anything useful I would have to guess that you are a poor manager/leader. I would like to propose an experiment. Show this course to a bunch of CEOs and note which ones thought the course was brilliant and those who said they didn't learn anything. Then watch to see which companies succeed and which ones fail. I predict there will be a correlation. The whole point of the course is that a good manager/leader is not someone who has all the answers. A good leader knows the right questions and/or implements the right processes to find the right questions. I give a well deserved 5 stars to this course.
Date published: 2011-01-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Low value, empty content The lectures are long on management buzzwords and name-dropping, short on content. The presentation is very repetitive, and after a lecture, you realize that the lecturer said almost nothing. As an example, the second lecture describes decision making by climbers ascending Mt Everest that resulted in disaster. The lecturer presents the basic climbing situation, then goes on to talk about several classic decision-making biases: sunk-cost effect, overconfidence bias, and recency effect. However, he never presents the actual decisions made by the climbers. He talks about a few climbers reaching the summit too late, but never talks about the points at which they or the guides could or should have chosen to behave differently. The actual decision-making is left out of the example! All in all, I find the lectures have perhaps 5 minutes of information out of every 30 minutes. If the lecturer did not repeat himself several times, if he eliminated every mention of Harvard Business School and all the name-dropping, he could probably reduce the lectures to no more than 10 minutes, which would make them at least tolerable.
Date published: 2010-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from indispensable for teams Very enjoyable and recommended to all those who are in management positions and even those who are simply on teams or groups who are part of a decision-making process in any type of organization. Just about all of the lectures were illustrated by relevant case studies, many of which were quite memorable: smoke jumpers, hubris and heroism on Mt Everest, NASA accidents, 9/11, Churchilll, friendly-fire incident in Iraq, etc. For me, in many cases, they resonated because they took place during my lifetime and I remember many of them vividly when they happened. I had background knowledge of the events taking place before my time, so the skills being explored were equally engaging. This course doesn't feel dated either. While Professor Roberto does use examples that may not be exemplars of critical decision making, i.e. Toyota, he also notes where individuals or organizations erred. In Toyota's case, they spoke for themselves and owned up to not maintaining quality due to growth and expansion. So, it's fair to say that this course is well researched and limitations of examples in the course are duly noted. One of the good points of the course is being able to build a core vocabulary of less frequent managerial terms (recency effect, practical drift, deferred judgement) for experiences I find myself in when I'm in meetings or groups. It's happened to me before, and now I have a means and a way take part in more efficient meetings myself. Among all my TTC courses, this one has the best final lecture. It wasn't simply a filler lecture summarizing the previous lectures; it was a valuable lecture in its own right, with parting commentary. In short, it's not finding the right answer that's important, but asking the right questions. This is one of those courses that you can listen to repeatedly, picking up something new and diferent each time.
Date published: 2010-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Insight Professor Roberto gives us multiple insights into the basis of reasoning behind the decisions individuals, groups, and organizations make everyday. Each decision has expected payoffs, and often overlooked, expected tradeoffs, and both sides of the coin need thought, discussion, and agreement. The Professor walks us through case studies and we get the advantage of knowing the actual end result of each decision, and how each particular decisional process helped determine the outcome. Examining these decisional processes has helped me to formulate a realistic expected conclusion for the decisions I am involved, and actual outcomes have been better aligned with expectations. I rate this, a good resource.
Date published: 2010-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Expected 3 Star Ends Up A 5 Star After reading some of the reviews, I feared this course, which I had already bought, would just be a re-hash of popular management articles that are too commonly available all over the media. I found the course to be of far greater value than that. First, the professor brings a substantial amount of personal experience and learning to the task. He's done important case studies, worked with colleagues who have their own varied and significant experiences, and learned and exposed important research that's important to getting a deep and true understanding of the subject. Second, the professor refreshingly uses cases from a variety of disciplines, including sports, politics, science, in addition to business. This variety adds much to the interest and makes the lessons learned more robust and valuable. The course is not perfect. We do get, as the critics claim, a little too much of the easy, popular wisdom on occasion. And I'm sure the professor probably wishes he hadn't fallen into idolizing companies who seemed to have it all right. So many of them, such as Toyota, later disappoint. Nevertheless, for students who operate at less than expert level (and that group certainly includes me!), the teaching here and its lessons were fresh, sound, well researched, and of considerable value.
Date published: 2010-08-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Belaboring The Obvious There are several useful and memorable nuggets in what I otherwise found to be a tedious CD listen. It reminded me of some of those self-help books where the author packages pages and pages of text around a handful of useful ideas. Very disappointing.
Date published: 2010-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely Course on Critical Decision Making As a former manager in the aerospace industry, I found Professor Roberto's course on Critical Decision Making to be one of the best courses I have taken. His thorough knowledge and communication skills are examples of a thoughtful and focused teaching style. His use of Case Studies, extensive references, and quotations added credibility. The charts used were relevant, clear, and concise. His integration of decision making at the individual, group, and organizational levels provided a cohesive story. I believe this course can provide practical guidance and a set of process templates for making better decisions. I highly recommend it!
Date published: 2010-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hints at effective decision making Professor Michael A. Roberto examines decision-making from the perspectives of individuals, groups and organizations. Using the Case Method approach he practiced at Harvard Business School, his lessons include historical anecdotes of major catastrophes. However, this course does not have the hands-on case-model problems that Harvard students would work on in groups, so the anecdotes become somewhat tiresome afterthoughts. Nonetheless, lessons 1, 5, 10-12, 15-17 and 23 offer clues as to how to engage in an effective decision-making process, while other lessons serve as background material. In the audio format, Professor Roberto has a speaking style that is difficult to transcribe, so the companion outlines are written in a way that is difficult to follow while listening. Some important points were not included in the outlines at all, which meant that certain passages of audio had to be replayed. This course is especially recommended for people involved in coaching group dynamics.
Date published: 2010-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good Course on a Very Important Topic As another reviewer noted, this course feels more like a management seminar than an academic course, but that’s not a bad thing since critical decision-making is a practical matter, so the “how to” orientation of the course makes sense. The course has a business emphasis, so an immediate concern is whether an academic like Michael Roberto (who apparently has no personal experience in business) can be an effective teacher on this topic. Fortunately, I think Roberto does well in terms of both examining the process of decision-making (and its pitfalls) and offering useful suggestions, and his case-based approach is appropriate and effective, even if the cases have been somewhat shoehorned to fit the theories. There does tend to be a good bit of repetition across the lectures (which is often the case when dealing with this subject matter), much of the lecture content seems like common sense, and many lectures feel like they have too little solid content to justify 30 minutes, but the course is still worthwhile and an excellent value overall. Here’s my attempt to summarize the key points from the course in some detail: (1) Decision-making is often a complex iterative process in which multiple people participate from different levels of an organization, multiple settings are involved, and emotional and sociopolitical factors are involved. Rather than coming solely from a leader at the top, organizational decisions often “bubble up” from lower levels of the organization, or are the result of negotiations within a dominant coalition. A leader’s role may largely be about shaping the organizational culture in which decisions are made and focusing on the process of making good decisions, drawing on all resources available, rather than trying to make decisions mainly on their own. (2) Bad decisions are usually not the result of lack of intelligence, lack of expertise, or bad intentions, but rather are more often due to inadequate decision-making processes at individual, group, and organizational levels. (3) Rather than being purely rational, individuals are boundedly rational, which means that they satisfice rather than optimize, use heuristic shortcuts, and are subject to cognitive biases (usually subconscious) such as overconfidence in one’s judgments (overconfidence bias), investing further resources in a particular direction because of prior investments (sunk-cost bias), allowing one’s judgment to be overly influenced by readily available or recent information (availability bias), selectively favoring information which supports preconceptions (confirmation bias), allowing an arbitrary reference point to influence judgments (anchoring bias), inferring causation from spurious correlations, incorrectly believing that outcomes had been predicted after they occur (hindsight bias), and giving oneself too much credit for favorable outcomes. Some methods to control our cognitive biases include becoming consciously aware that they exist, performing retrospective reviews to discern lessons learned, obtaining rapid feedback on outcomes of decisions, use of unbiased outside experts, and use of effective group collaboration. (4) How we frame situations in terms of models affects how we understand them and make decisions. For example, framing a situation as a threat tends to cause us to respond actively but inflexibly according to standard protocols, whereas framing a situation as an opportunity enables us to be more adaptive and effective. Often, simultaneously adopting multiple frames can be effective. (5) Intuition enables quick decisions by drawing on past experience in analogous situations, and is thus not generally available to novices. However, intuition can be unreliable when applied to complex, ambiguous, and/or relatively unprecedented situations. Some techniques which can help compensate for the limitations of intuition include detailed comparison of past and present situations, formal analysis, identification of cause-effect relationships, simulation models (including pre-mortem analysis), communicating intuitions explicitly among team members, and use of outside experts. (6) Some examples of reasons why groups can fail to make good decisions are feeling of invulnerability, rationalizing away disconfirming data and warnings, automatically assuming that rivals are inferior, stereotyping rivals, suppressing dissent or being afraid to express it, limiting communication between group members according to status, assuming the group is unanimous when it’s not, filtering out information which conflicts with conventional wisdom, the feeling that “if everyone is responsible, no one is responsible,” failing to verify key assumptions, consideration of few (or no) alternatives, not having devil’s advocates, not finding the right balance between attention to details versus the big picture, being unwilling to revisit discarded alternatives, and not consulting unbiased outside experts. (7) Debate has become dysfunctional when communication dwindles or people simply repeat the same points over and over again. To foster productive debate, there should be emphasis on debating issues rather than letting the debate become personal or emotional. Some ways to do this are to establish ground rules for debate, define roles for participants, present data and ideas in novel ways, and revisit assumptions. (8) Groups can be synergistically effective when they’re diverse, decentralized, encourage open and active communication from all participants (including surfacing of information which would usually be kept private), have efficient mechanisms for aggregation of information and opinions (eg, wikis), and aren’t subject to excessive conformity (eg, due to groupthink or some people being dominant) or conflict (eg, due to development of factions along cultural fault lines). (9) Group creativity can be fostered by having a fun work environment, minimizing hierarchy and status symbols, encouraging taking of (measured) risks, challenging assumptions and using multiple frames, deferring judgment, and giving people freedom within a carefully designed process. (10) Organizations may be unable to reach decisions because they have a culture of reflexively opposing the ideas of others (a “culture of no”), or because they suffer from the need to continue gathering and evaluating information past the point of diminishing returns (“analysis paralysis”). But a “culture of yes,” in which people are unwilling to say when they disagree, is also harmful because it creates a false impression of consensus. (11) When full consensus isn’t possible, making decisions via a fair process will help secure the acceptance of those who disagree with the decision. A fair process involves giving everyone a chance to air their views, giving serious consideration to everyone’s views, transparency, and presenting the rationale for the final decision. (12) Informal processes in an organization can be effective, but continual drift from official policies can eventually lead to breakdowns. (13) In ambiguous and complex situations, people can become overwhelmed and emotional, thus compromising their ability to reason and work together. To address this, problems can be divided in smaller parts, and the need for debate can be balanced with seeking “small wins” which prevent polarization and dysfunction and sustain progress. (14) Systems with complex and tightly-coupled interactions are prone to failure, to the extent that such failures might even be called “normal accidents.” However, even in these systems, a series of smaller failures is usually required to cause overall failure, which means that some redundancy is still present. (15) Many failures have a long incubation period during which “normalization of deviance” occurs, such that people gradually get used to deviations from normal to the extent that those deviations become the new normal. This process continues until the deviations stretch to the breaking point. (16) We tend to underestimate the risk of ambiguous threats which are known to pose a problem, but the consequences are highly unknown. There’s usually a “recovery window” period during which such threats can be addressed before their consequences become large, but we have to proactive in monitoring and responding to such threats. (17) Threats and problems often initially appear in a fragmented form, so it’s necessary to connect the dots in order to identify and respond such problems. Leaders can facilitate this by creating incentives for sharing information, making sure that a few people don’t dominate discussions, stimulating debate, making sure that significant ideas are adequately explored, and providing collaboration tools such as wikis. High-reliability organizations are very vigilant in terms of monitoring for even small signs of problems and addressing them. Overall, I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in decision-making, and especially to people involved in organizational leadership and management.
Date published: 2010-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful course for management I've taken many management courses (Dale Carnegie, Insights, etc.) and read many management books (Leadership Challenge, Crucial Conversations, Peter Senge's books, John Maxwell books, etc.). The Art of Critical Decision Making is the most valuable and practical resource I've encountered so far. Deciding and articularting how to decide is a powerful tool and this course helps clarify that process. People may not agree with the final decision(s), but they know the process was fair and logical, so accepting the outcome becomes much easier. The course also contains effective suggestions on how to move teams forward through complex and ambiguous challenges. The course adovcates using small wins to efficiently work through multi-layered, contentious, and ambiguous problems, which builds team spirit and momentum along the way. I thought it was a fantasic course and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2010-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I loved this course. It covered areas to watch out when making decisions. The course divides decision-making at three levels: human, team and organisational levels. Prof Roberto, another enthusiastic presenter - on par with other great course presenters at the TTC, presented many case studies to illustrate his points. These cases included: Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban missile crisis, 1996 Mt Everest disaster (which was presented in the first chapter - fantastic), the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters, and many more. I enjoyed Prof Roberto's discussion of up-to-date academic research and studies in the area of decision-making. I also commended Prof Roberto's balanced approach in most chapters; i.e., saying that one approach is good/useful in decision making but some other thinkers/researchers think it is not for the following reason .... etc. All in all, a great course from TTC and I recommend it to anyone, particularly who work in leadership positions or in teams.
Date published: 2010-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Sociology -- not Philosophy Professor Roberto takes us on a tour of all the current sociological theories of the past sixty to seventy years, utilizing the case study method. Roberto shows us how the Kennedy administration, for example, was able to steer clear of a “groupthink” scenario in the Cuban Missile Crisis by having two independent groups split up and meet without the President’s presence at these meetings. One can certainly appreciate how this approach to critical decision-making was far superior to the thinking which led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but the urgency of those “thirteen days in October” seemed downplayed in favor of promoting a particular organizational perspective. I wondered whether Roberto’s theories were too simplistic, (Roberto himself has his doubts) given that he completely ignored certain essential aspects of the Crisis in favor of its organizational analysis. Robert McNamara, himself present at the Crisis, says a case study is one thing, but when you are in the crisis itself you have to be able to identify the problem before looking for its solution! Roberto’s delivery style actually threw me for a loop. He consistently emphasized non-essential points while de-emphasizing each lecture’s important points. For example, in the second lecture, he refers to Mount Everest no less than five times as “the highest mountain in the world.” Did Roberto’s lack of substance in the course made him “pad” the course with obvious hyperbole, in an effort to dramatize the situational pathos? It seemed that complete out-croppings of previous lectures were repeated verbatim throughout the course. I often had to check to see whether I had been listening to the correct lecture, because I was sure that I had heard the same words of a particular point which had already been covered! It is certainly the case that decision-making is probably the most important thing a human being can do. I wondered whether investigating the ways in which a “human” vs. a “computer” might make decisions could have shed more light on the ways humans actually arrive at their decisions. If one considers, for example, how one plays a game of chess, where each move is a calculated decision, one could see how computers might have a distinct advantage over humans in considering the consequences of any particular decision or situation, [the WOPR computer’s investigation of the best way to win at “Thermonuclear War” in the movie “War Games” is a good example of this.] Although computers might be able to mitigate human error, on the one hand, they might not be able to appreciate the human capacity for brinkmanship, deception, and bluff, which is one reason why this course might be a good companion to “Game Theory,” another course on human decision-making offered by the Teaching Company. It seems that much of the course is based on common sense and intuition, although Roberto draws out these basic concepts in a much more comprehensive and formal fashion. For example, (says Roberto) we should be aware of our cognitive biases, we should frame our questions or problems in the best way possible, we should maintain good communication with others, we should allow opposing viewpoints to surface and we should encourage vigorous debate. If it is inevitable that a mistake should happen, then having methodologies by which a mitigating response can be implemented is a good thing to have. This course does not address ethical or existential problems, or decision-making strategies which would affect one’s own particular life. The student who expects these topics to be covered in this course will be disappointed. I was also disappointed that Roberto never touched on the fairly recent topic of whether President G.W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq with faulty intelligence was an example of “groupthink,” and whether it was a good or a bad decision. Maybe the jury is still out on this, but this is just the course to have posed such a question -- Roberto misses his opportunity to address a contemporary and compelling topic. This course should be ideal for the sociologist, organizational expert or businessman who wants to know the latest theories and methodologies by which catastrophes or failures can be avoided or mitigated, but it could also help the individual to become more circumspect, intuitive, flexible and engaged in the upcoming situational crisis that he must meet.
Date published: 2010-03-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Substandard course This course was disappointing. It is fit as a management seminar not as one of the great courses of the teaching company. It was so boring I could not go byond the 12th lecture. I do not believe this course meet the standard of the teaching company.
Date published: 2010-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Case Studies Listened to the audio course on the iPod. Great presentation. Lecturer makes great use of case studies. Engaging speaking style, broadcast quality voice, and clear, concise lectures. One of the best courses I've enjoyed here - if not the best. And I am most interested in History...
Date published: 2010-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thoughtful This book has started with very useful thought process, Would have liked to have focussed more on individual decision making process and how to improve the same. It has got well compilied useful case studies. Aj
Date published: 2010-02-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from For some, a waste of money and time I was very disappointed in this course. There was nothing in the material that people who have been through any management course have not heard before. I had been under the mistaken impression that the course would be useful for someone who had important life decisions to make. Instead, it is geared primarily to corporate and business types and most of the examples and case studies referred to were limited to solely US issues. Being an expatriate living in a series of countries over the last 30 years, there was not much in the course material that was pertinent to my life or work. And having had to go through several management courses over the years, there was nothing new in the messages conveyed by the course material. In addition, the lecturer had an irritating speaking style that reminded me of an over-confident grad student.
Date published: 2010-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Acceptable Overview of the Topic I've reviewed a couple of TTC courses with the observation that they were brilliant at the level of the individual lectures but not as good when viewed as a single course on the topic at hand. This course suffers from the opposite problem. Given the seriously flawed decision making processes we've all observed at the individual, group and institutional levels, it would seem that the topic of this course is long overdue for a critical analysis. However, the individual lectures do not always live up to this process. The case method (long a mainstay of Harvard Business School, from which our professor hails) is useful in illustrating the themes with specific examples. However, these examples vary widely in quality. Some are genuinely insightful, but others are nearly trivial. As just a couple of examples, it is a gross overgeneralization to claim that Truman made mistakes in Korea because he was reasoning by analogy with Munich 1938; it's also inaccurate to claim that Enron failed because they extended a successful energy trading model beyond its range of applicability. The fact that certain cases are revisited is sometimes quite effective in allowing us to peer progressively deeper into the decision making mechanism as we learn more about the topic. However, it sometimes leads to excessive repetition (e.g., the discussion of how Eisenhower came to lead the D Day invasion), and sometimes later knowledge doesn't build on our previous understanding but actually tears it down (most notably, lecture 23 on high-reliability organizations contradicts much of lecture 17 on normal accident theory). However, all in all the course does a competent job of presenting the topic. In particular, I was very impressed by the volume of references to research and writing on this very important topic. If the analysis of how decisions are (and should be) made is of interest to you, then I recommend this course despite its shortcomings.
Date published: 2010-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights and Practical Help Professor Roberto presents a treasure chest of principles, illustrations, stories, and applications regarding the challenges of decision-making. This is a great collection of thought-provoking and useful material, especially for anyone involved in organizational leadership. His fascinating illustrations are drawn from the spheres of mountain-climbing, forestry, armed forces, business, government, space exploration, and more. His style is energetic, enthusiastic, and articulate. Which raises the question of why I have downgraded the rating one star in course content and presentation. About three-fourths through my first listening I became aware that something was nagging at me, something was missing that finally pin-pointed. All the stories were those told by an analyst, an academic examiner. None were personal. I was missing the voice of personal experience: "I remember when I was leading our company, and we ran into a situation ..." Though Roberto recognizes and tries to avoid the dangers of Monday morning quarterbacking, when you're looking at decision-making failures after the fact, it's almost unavoidable. And his steady speaking rate, though enthusiastic, can become monotonous. Roberto is an academic. His research is obviously vast, and he quotes sources widely. He is like a scientist standing outside the experience looking at it, rather than a participant speaking from the inside. I imagine that in his actual classroom he might bring in business executives, for example, who can describe what decision-making is like in the flow of real time. A good practice might be to listen to this series while reading an experienced leader's autobiographical account: as an example, Lewis Gerstner's "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" about his leading the revival of IBM in the 1990s. This seems like nit-picking compared to this series' value, but I mention it hoping to be helpful. Speaking as one who has led three organizations and teaches leadership development professionally, I heartily recommend this series.
Date published: 2010-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great training material for Executives and staff This was an excellently designed and presented set of lectures. I was very surprised to see just how relevant the material was to my situation at work. All the issues and examples of group dynamics were particularly pertinent to me. In particular, the notion of “Group Think” was particularly enlightening. Prof Roberto carefully explained each issue with plenty of real life historical examples and appropriate research data. Also, solutions to problems are presented. The series would be particularly helpful for managers at every work place. I just hope I can get my superiors at work to watch them as well. I was very pleased with the lecture series.
Date published: 2010-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course I enjoyed this course very much -- as I finished one lecture I couldn't wait for the next! The case studies were very vivid and outstanding --it really reinforced the points of each lecture. The professor is very dynamic and knows the material well. From a business perspective I found a lot of the ideas very applicable and immediately useful in my environment.
Date published: 2010-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than worth it. Based on this course, I'd pay for any course by Prof Michael Roberto in advance with absolutely no worries that it would be worthwhile. Among all the courses I have taken so far, this course just set the new standard in terms of content quality and focus. Pure pleasure.
Date published: 2010-01-11
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